Amazon forest fires ‘on the rise’

The number of fires destroying Amazon rainforests are increasing, a study has found.

Take Cover library pictureThe BBC’s Mark Kinver reports that a team of scientists said fires in the region could release similar amounts of carbon as deliberate deforestation.

Reporting on a paper published in the journal Science, Kinver says the researchers found that that fire occurrence rates had increased in 59% of areas with reduced deforestation.

As a result, the rise in fires could jeopardise the long-term success of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation, they added.

The researchers – from the University of Exeter, UK, and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research – based their findings on satellite-derived data on deforestation and forest fires.

“The results were a surprise because we expected that fires would have decreased with the decrease of deforestation,” said co-author Luiz Aragao from the University of Exeter.

“The implication for REDD is that we first need a system that can monitor fires,” he told the Science journal.

“There is also a need to shift land use in the Amazon to a system where fire is not used.”

‘Slash and burn’

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) schemes aim to create a financil value for the carbon stored in developing nations’ tropical forests.

It offers nations incentives to protect forest areas from a variety of impacts that release carbon into the atmosphere, including tree felling and logging, agricultural expansion, land degradation.

As deforestation accounts for about 20% of emissions resulting from human activity, the REDD programmes are considered to be a key component in the global effort to curb climate change.

“Fires following drought years are likely to release a similar amount of carbon as emissions from deliberate deforestation,” the researchers wrote.

“The higher probability of a drier Amazon in the 21st Century predicted by some global circulation models… may push Amazonia towards an amplified fire-prone system.”

They added that previous studies showed that fires in the region increased after large-scale droughts in 1998 and 2005.

“Forest landscapes in Amazonia are becoming more fragmented and, therefore, a growing proportion of forests is exposed to the leakage of accidental fires from adjacent farms,” they suggested.

The practice of “slash and burn” is widely used by farmers in the Amazon region to clear secondary forests and allow food and cash crops to be cultivated.

But Dr Aragao said: “We need to change the way people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire.”

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, said: “These results have important implications for REDD negotiations.

“If we are to control deforestation, you have got to look at what local people are doing outside of the forests,” he told BBC News.

“The entire REDD regime need to encourage a better use of land without fire.

“But if they do not use fire, which is cheap, then what are they going to use – strimmers? Chainsaws? Tractors?

“That means that money from REDD programmes need to go to people that not only live within the forests, but also the farmers living outside them.”

Dr Aragao agreed, adding that switching to fire-free land management in already deforested area that lie next to forests could “drastically reduce fires and carbon emissions”.

“It would be expensive,” he observed, “but it would protect the stability of Amazonian carbon stocks and diversity.”

Pieter van Lierop, a forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) – a member of the UN’s REDD programme, said the findings were relevant to policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

“The article clearly demonstrates that within REDD, specific attention should go to analyzing the role of fire and propose more responsible use of fire and/or alternatives for fire,” he told BBC News.

“However, we should also take into consideration that the article is mainly discussing fire incidence and occurence, meaning number of fires and not the size of emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/06/2010

UN: World’s forests facing tough tests

World forests face the dual challenge of climate change and the global economic crisis, a key UN report says.

On the BBC News website, environment reporter Mark Kinver said it suggested that although the economic slowdown might reduce deforestation rates in the short term, it was also likely to lead to other problems.

One concern, would be a lack of investment in the sector and in forestry management.

The study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was published on Monday.

It is timed to coincide with the start of UN World Forest Week.

CTS Nair, one of the report’s lead authors and the FAO Forestry Department’s chief economist, said the economic crisis was having “tremendous impacts – both positive and negative”.

“You will find the forestry industries in a number of countries almost on the verge of collapse,” he told BBC News.

For example, he said the construction of starter homes in the US and Canada had fallen from about two million units at the end of 2005 to less than 500,000 now.

This had led to a dramatic fall in the demand for wood products, which was affecting forest-based industries and export markets in developing nations.

However, Mr Nair added, the downturn was having some beneficial effects.

“We are seeing a decline in the prices of soya beans, palm oil and rubber etc,” he explained.

“The prices have fallen drastically, so this means that the incentives for cultivating these crops have also gone down.

“As a result, the pressure to clear primary forest stands is also declining.”

The report, State of the World’s Forests 2009, also showed that the health of forests varied from region to region of the world.

“We see advances being made in places like Europe, but losses being made in places like Africa and especially developing countries,” Mr Nair observed.

“For example, what we see in the case of Africa is that there is a growing population yet the productivity within agriculture has remained extremely low.

“There is very little diversification in terms of sources of income so there is a very high dependency level on land use and natural resources, such as timber.”

“On the other hand, in places such as Asia where there has been rapid economic growth, people have moved out of agriculture to some extent and the pressure on the land has declined.”

In recent years, the importance of the world’s forests as carbon sinks has featured prominently in global climate policy discussions.

An initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), which is likely to involve developed nations paying tropical forest-rich nations not to cut down trees, appears to be gaining support.

Mr Nair gave the scheme a cautious welcome: “In theory, it is an excellent idea but its implementation is going to be extremely tricky.

“If you look at the people involved in forest clearing, it is different people in different regions.

“For example, in Latin America, it is largely cattle rangers and soya bean planters. In South-East Asia, it is palm oil and rubber plantations.

“What we find is that it is not the smallholders, it is the big players who are working within a global market.

“So far, only the issue of what it is trying to achieve has been examined, the issue of how we are going to implement it has not really been discussed or examined.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 16/03/2009

Forestry can create ‘ten million new jobs’

Ten million new “green jobs” can be created by investing in sustainable forest management, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“As more jobs are lost due to the current economic downturn, sustainable forest management could become a means of creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment,” said Jan Heino, assistant director-general of FAO’s Forestry Department.

Since forests and trees are vital storehouses of carbon, such an investment could also make a major contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, said Heino.

According to a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), unemployment worldwide could increase from 179 million in 2007 to 198 million in 2009 under the best case scenario; in the worst case scenario, it could go as high as 230 million.

Increased investment in forestry could provide jobs in forest management, agroforestry and farm forestry, improved fire management, development and management of trails and recreation sites, expansion of urban green spaces, restoring degraded forests and planting new ones.

Activities can be tailored to local circumstances, including availability of labour, skill levels and local social, economic and ecological conditions.

A number of countries, including the US and South Korea, have included forestry in their economic stimulus plans.

Similarly, afforestation is an important component of India’s rural employment guarantee programme.

According to FAO, the global potential is at least 10 million new jobs through national investments.

At the same time, improved forest management and new tree planting could significantly reduce the downward trend in forest cover reported by many countries.

This would help to reduce carbon emissions from land-use change and could potentially have a larger positive impact on climate change than any other initiative currently being planned or considered by world leaders.

How sustainable forest management can help build a green future and meet society’s changing demand for forest-derived goods and services will be the main thrust of World Forest Week, which begins on 16 March.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the UN secretary general’s special envoy on climate change, will deliver the keynote address.

She will emphasise the critical role of forests in society’s response to the challenges posed by climate change.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of an unprecedented global economic crisis. The forest sector has also been affected severely, notes FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2009, to be released on 16 March 2009.

However, the forest sector has considerable potential to play a catalytic role in the world’s response to the global economic and environmental crises, the FAO concludes.

Source: FAO press release

Date: 10/03/2009

A slow start to saving trees in Zambia

After years of extensive flooding and droughts, Zambians are gradually turning to greener energy technologies to save trees, which could slow the impact of climate change, according to a UN news feature.

Charcoal-fed braziers are being replaced by those burning briquettes made of treated coal waste, which are smokeless and emit low levels of sulphur dioxide gas.

Biogas – a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting organic matter like animal or human waste, biodegradable waste and municipal solid waste – is also being punted as alternatives to wood fuel.

“Traditional energy sources, especially wood fuel, cause deforestation and serious ecological and environmental degradation in the country,” said Alick Muvundika, head of the water, energy and environment programme at the government-run National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR).

Zambia is listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as one of the top 10 countries with the highest annual deforestation rates. The FAO estimates that Zambia loses about 8,000 hectares of forest every year.

Most of the trees are used as firewood or for producing charcoal, while in many rural areas they are cut and burnt to ash, which is used to improve soil fertility on subsistence farms.

Greener alternatives like the coal briquettes have been available in Zambia since the 1990s, but there have been few takers.

Nasri Safieddine, who designs energy-saving traditional cookers, said there had been little political will to promote these technologies until recently.

Power cuts and the price of charcoal are now prompting urban Zambians to explore the greener energy alternatives, said Mr Muvundika.

A 10kg bag of coal briquettes costs about US$1.50, while Zambians have to shell out US$5 for the same amount of charcoal, and 1.3kg of coal briquettes can burn for six hours, while the same weight of charcoal will burn for only one and a half hours.

Experts say the effects of climate change are most severe in areas where the trees have been cut down.

In Zambia’s Southern Province, which suffered one of the highest and fastest deforestation rates in the 1990s, floods and droughts have become perennial, causing failed harvests and chronic hunger, while other parts of the country have been experiencing shorter rainy seasons with colder winters and warmer summers.

Trees draw ground water up through their roots and release it into the atmosphere, so removing the forests could lead to a drier climate in the region.

Slash-and-burn deforestation also affects the carbon cycle, warming up the atmosphere, and is estimated to be responsible for 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year, amounting to one-fifth of the global total.

Joseph Kanyanga, chief meteorologist at the Zambia Meteorological Department, said the country had experienced significant changes in temperature and rainfall patterns over the last 40 years.

“[There have been more] floods than dry spells, especially in recent years, and this is a signal of climatic change in our weather patterns,” he told the UN’s IRIN news service.

“It means that Zambia needs to adjust to environmentally friendly ways of living to avoid such effects as outbreaks of diseases, crop failure, floods and other consequences,” Mr Kanyanga added.

Source: IRIN news service

Date: 03/12/2008

Forests and farms ‘can fight climate change’

The problem of global warming from greenhouse gases calls for a stronger involvement of agriculture and farming communities, as well as forestry and forest users in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.

“Agriculture and deforestation are major contributors to climate change, but by the same token farmers and forest users could become key players in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said FAO assistant directo-general Alexander Muller.

“Unlocking the potential of agriculture and forestry for climate change mitigation requires financing mechanisms targeting farmers and foresters around the globe, particularly small-scale land-users in developing countries,” he added.

“These mechanisms should give priority to emission-reducing measures that have ‘co-benefits’ for food and energy security, poverty reduction, sustainable use of natural resources. Forestry and agriculture offer many opportunities for such ‘win-win’ measures.

According to the FAO, greenhouse gas emissions from forestry and agriculture contribute more than 30% of the current annual total emissions (deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 17.4%, while agriculture is responsible for 13.5%).

When looking at methane, the FAO says that agriculture is responsible for half of the annual emissions (primarily through livestock and rice), and more that 75% of nitrous oxide (largely from fertiliser application) emitted annually by human activities.

“Climate change will affect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, fishers and forest users in developing countries, many of whom are already facing difficulties in earning a sufficient income and feeding their families,” Mr Muller continued.

Rural communities, particularly those living in already environmentally fragile areas, face an immediate and ever-growing risk of increased crop failure, loss of livestock, and reduced availability of marine, aquaculture and forest products.

Humans, plants, livestock and fish also face the risk of being exposed to new pests and diseases.

Mr Muller concluded that climate change had the potential to increase hunger, particularly in the world’s poorest nations.

“We have to act now if we want to avoid a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Roughly 40% of the land biomass is directly or indirectly managed by farmers, foresters or herders.

He added: “The international community can only win the global battle against climate change if we succeed in mobilizing the potential of these land users to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in sequestering carbon in soil and plants.

“We have to adapt to climate changes that are of greater intensity and rapidity than in the past.”

Source: FAO press release

Date: 04/12/2008

Summit opens Europe’s first Forest Week

The role forests can play in the battle against dangerous climate is one of the topics to be discussed by delegates at a summit to mark the first European Forest Week.

The gathering in Rome, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will run from 20-24 October.

In a press release, the FAO said Europe’s forests were growing at the rate of about 13 million cubic feet annually, yet only two-thirds of this growth was being exploited.

“Forests cover 44% of Europe’s land area and continue to expand,” said Jan Heino, FAO’s assistant director-general for forestry.

“Collaboration across the forest and forest-related sectors is crucial if we are to take full advantage of the multiple resources forests offer.”

Delegates from 46 countries are attending the Rome meeting, which has been jointly organised by the European Commission, FAO, the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Partnering the talks in Italy, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is hosting a conference in Brussels, looking at the “role of forests and the forest-based sector in meeting the EU’s climate commitments”.

More than 130 events will be staged throughout Europe over the course of the five days to highlight the value of Europe’s forests and what needs to be done to fully utilise their potential.

Organisers hope the inaugural European Forest Week hope the focus on sustainable forestry management will contribute towards finding solutions for some of the most challenging issues facing forests and forestry today: climate change, energy and water.

In the last 15 years, forest area in Europe has grown by 32 million acres or an area equivalent to the size of Greece.

Source: FAO press release

Date: 17/10/2008

Statistic: European forest fires

Fire is the main cause of forest destruction in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Amazingly, about 50,000 fires sweep through 700,000 to one million hectares of Mediterranean forests, other wooded land and other land each year.

As well as causing enormous economic damage, the fires result in massive ecological loss and human deaths.

Forest fires in the Mediterranean Basin are significantly determined by predominant climatic conditions.

Prolonged summers (extending from June to October and sometimes even longer), with virtually no rain and average daytime temperatures well in excess of 30C, reduce the moisture content of forest litter to below 5%.

Under these conditions, even a small addition of heat (lightning, a spark, a match, a discarded cigarette butt) can be enough to start a fierce fire.

Source: FAO Mediterranean Basin forest fire workshop paper

Date: 06/08/2008

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